How to Give Kids a Better Shot at Escaping Poverty

New study finds moving out of low-income areas early makes a difference
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted May 4, 2015 9:10 AM CDT
How to Give Kids a Better Shot at Escaping Poverty
A man walks past blighted rowhouses and vacant lots in Baltimore, April 1, 2013.   (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

(Newser) – A new study suggests that there is a proven way to give your children the best chance of leaving poverty behind: Move out of a poverty-stricken area as early as you possibly can. The Equality of Opportunity Project study looked at millions of families with children that had moved, and analyzed those kids' chances of upward mobility. It found that when children were moved from a place with a lower average income to a place with a higher average income by age 10, as adults they ended up with incomes about halfway between the incomes of kids who spent their entire lives in the low-income versus the high-income areas, according to the New York Times. But the later in life a child was moved, the less difference was seen. "Every extra year of childhood spent in a better neighborhood seems to matter," one of the study authors says. Children who moved young were also more likely to go to college and less likely to become single parents.

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The findings come as some in Baltimore decry how difficult it is to move out of poverty in that city—and indeed, the study finds that when looking at the 100 largest counties in the US, the city of Baltimore is the place where kids have the worst chance of moving upward. Other areas that didn't fare so well in the study include Chicago's Cook County; Fresno, Calif.; Milwaukee, Wis.; and the Bronx, NY. But it can be difficult for low-income families to move to higher-income areas (the No. 1 area for upward mobility, per the study: Illinois' DuPage County), and some economists say we need to change our housing policy as a result. The Housing and Urban Development department plans to start offering bigger housing vouchers to people moving to more expensive neighborhoods; another idea would be to offer tax incentives to developers who put up affordable housing in higher-income areas. The study also found that there are some upwardly mobile areas with more affordable rent, like New York's Putnam County. (Read more poverty stories.)

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